The distribution of the human liver alcohol dehydrogenase, ADH2, and aldehyde dehydrogenase, ALDH2, genotypes in 21 different populations comprising Mongoloids, Caucasoids, and Negroids was determined by hybridization of the amplified genomic DNA with allele-specific oligonucleotide probes. Whereas the frequency of the ADH1(2) allele was found to be relatively high in the Caucasoids, Mexican Mestizos, Brazilian Indios, Swedish Lapps, Papua New Guineans and Negroids, the frequency of the ADH2(2) gene was considerably higher in the Mongoloids and Australian Aborigines. The atypical ALDH2 gene (ALDH2(2)) was found to be extremely rare in Caucasoids, Negroids, Papua New Guineans, Australian Aborigines and Aurocanians (South Chile). In contrast, this mutant gene was found to be widely prevalent among the Mongoloids. Individuals possessing the abnormal ALDH2 gene show alcohol-related sensitivity responses (e.g. facial flushing), have the tendency not to be habitual drinkers, and apparently suffer less from alcoholism and alcohol-related liver disease.